05 October, 2010

some more passing thoughts

I wrote a long thing in a notebook to be a possible intro to my passing project if I do it...then decided I kind of don't want to have a big intro, I can just include my experiences mixed in anonymously with everyone else's. But anyway.

I talked about passing. I said it is often conventionally associated with people of color passing for white. I said that trans men and women talk about "passing," but it's not exactly the same since you are actually trying to be perceived as the correct gender, not the wrong one. But then I thought, if you are passing for cis that is kind of "passing as something you're not" because being cis implies stuff about your history and physiology, but nonetheless you are misleading people about small things in order to get them to recognize a big, true thing: your correct gender.

But then I thought about how passing as straight had once felt a little bit like this for me. When I was [one of] the only visible queer kid[s] in my school, everything else about me disappeared, so the person I was being perceived as wasn't me at all. When I started going into new environments and intentionally keeping quiet or lying about being SSA, I felt like myself again. People again noticed the details of who I was.

And also, the way normal people talk about people with ASD often deprives us of agency and an inner life. It is assumed that for example people wouldn't stim or monologue if they just understood that it is not normal. The way a person walks or talks is analyzed; the abnormalities are pointed out with no thought of how a person who walks or talks that way might feel as they are going about their life. Things are said, like, "The 'active and odd' type...I worked with an autistic boy and when I said hello how are you, he talked about his special interests. He wanted to engage with me--that's active--but he did so in an abnormal fashion--that's odd." So our choices and personalities just become symptoms.

I am canny. And I am careful to the point of having significant anxiety problems. So for a long time, I felt that being seen as ASD would actually erase who I really am. The fact that I have green hair wouldn't be seen as a choice or even a covering mechanism, but a sign that I maybe am not good at dyeing my hair and made a mistake, or don't understand what is a normal way for a girl to present herself. And I felt that stylized and strange things I do because I have too much anxiety to do things the normal way, or just don't know how, would be seen as thoughtless, and just "behaviors" that show what people like me are like.

The other week, I wrote an email to a kid I don't know super well, but would like to know better. He knows I have ASD because of a workshop we were in together where I wrote about it. My email said something like, "Dear ___, I would like to be friends with you, and when we ate together the other week it was very nice, but now when I see you I feel like you avoid talking to me for very long, do you think I'm weird? Sincerely Amanda. (This is a joke.)"

Now, the reason I said "this is a joke" is because I sometimes tend to try to initiate friendships in ways that seem very abrupt (although this kid has done some friendship initiation towards me, such as sitting with me in the dining hall and stuff) and to avoid being self-conscious, and because I'm not going to agonize over phrasing something in a super normal way, I will instead intentionally phrase something in a very twee, stylized, overdramatic way. It's the Manic Pixie Dream Girl act, a little bit, but I've dropped a lot of that I'm glad to say, but I still have an instinct to approach people in the twee stylized way, and you know, it works for me, I don't really regret it.

But anyway, then as I was going to send it I thought "But he knows I have ASD. So maybe he'll just think that I really write like that all the time and don't know any other way to write, and that I genuinely think he doesn't like me because the last time we said hi to each other we didn't have a conversation." So I added "This is a joke." And a while later he wrote back expressing positive/friendship sentiments (we'll see how this goes, but I don't think it was different than the sort of thing normal people say to other normal people when they're thinking of becoming friends) but also wrote "I don't know what you mean about it being a joke" and then I wrote back explaining.

Anyway. Um, I would like my passing project to be kind of a collage of voices, and maybe some actual collaging with images too around the words. But then I feel concerned that I will almost be taking away people's agency and using them as examples, just like I'm afraid of professionals, or people who are "interested in autism," doing to me. For example, if someone writes a very low-key, long, almost cheerfully listless description of some experience, but at one point buried in all that is the sentence, "The way she was acting was making me want to kill myself." If I take that sentence because it's striking and use it as a headline, isn't that a way of kind of erasing who the person really is?


  1. Maybe if you talked to people whose work you're going to be using and explained how you were planning to use it, you could find out if they were okay with the way you're going to use it. That's what I would do. That is, if I actually had the nerve to approach a bunch of autistic people and ask them for their artwork. Which I don't. But I think it's a good idea anyway, so good luck if you manage to do it.

    "because I'm not going to agonize over phrasing something in a super normal way, I will instead intentionally phrase something in a very twee, stylized, overdramatic way."

    Holy crap, I totally do that. I either do that or go into Daria mode.

  2. I've never seen Daria
    but I misread that as Darla, like, Connor's mom :(

  3. I walked to my son's school today to bring him a bike pump in case his tire was flat and before I left I thought to myself, "some idiot is going to ask me why I am carrying a giant bike pump, but if I was walking with someone else no one would question it or if my husband or friend was walking with a giant bike pump no one would care." Sure enough on my way back, some guy intentionally slows down while driving to ask me if I forgot my bike. I am a freaking magnet for weirdness, I can't even do anything remotely out of the ordinary or people will notice. Why is this? I have no idea but I will probably seek out the answer for the rest of my life because I am obsessive about understanding it. It makes me feel trapped, like society is holding me in this force field of allowable behavior.

  4. Daria is awesome! She's a super sarcastic girl with brown hair and glasses and she makes wry, witty comments on everything.